Posted on June 14, 2019

Black Sheriffs Are Less Likely to Pursue Low-Level Arrests Against People of Color

Tom Jacobs, PacificStandard, June 11, 2019

{snip} New research reports that, when a black sheriff replaces a white one, there is a notable shift in who gets arrested under the new regime, and who doesn’t.


The economist discovered 102 counties that had seen at least one transition between a black sheriff and a white one over the course of those 24 years. Utilizing comprehensive arrest records kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he compared the records of the old and new sheriffs, and found a clear pattern.


Bulman found that, after a black sheriff takes command from a white one, “arrests of blacks fall relative to whites. During years in which a black sheriff is in office, there are approximately 1.6 fewer arrests of blacks per 1,000 black county residents.”

Digging deeper into the data, he found no statistically significant change in the racial composition of arrests for the most serious crimes, but identified “large and significant” changes for less-serious ones — the sorts of infractions where officers have considerable discretion over whether or not to make an arrest.

Bulman then looked at the specific crimes people had been arrested for. He compared crimes for which blacks are more frequently arrested, such as robbery, gambling, murder, vagrancy, fraud, and prostitution, with those for which whites are more frequently taken into custody, including driving while under the influence, sex offenses, manslaughter, arson, and vandalism.

He found that, after a black sheriff took office, there was a significant reduction in arrest rates for crimes traditionally associated with black Americans. In contrast, there was no change in the arrest rate for crimes traditionally associated with whites.

This finding suggests that the black sheriffs, and the deputies they hired, had followed different priorities than their white predecessors in deciding what types of crimes to pursue aggressively.